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We asked, you answered: What's the secret to a close relationship with siblings?

Eddie Almance (left) and his sister Leila pose for their cousin Ailem Villarreal on the rooftop of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Odessa, Texas, before heading to prom. Their grandmother says that for seven generations, the family members have forged close bonds.
Danielle Villasana for NPR
Eddie Almance (left) and his sister Leila pose for their cousin Ailem Villarreal on the rooftop of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Odessa, Texas, before heading to prom. Their grandmother says that for seven generations, the family members have forged close bonds.

The Science of Siblings is a new series exploring the ways our siblings can influence us, from our money and our mental health all the way down to our very molecules. We'll besharing these stories over the next several weeks.

In our series "The Science of Siblings," one of the most popular stories was about encouraging kindness among siblings — a topic of great interest to our readers. So when we asked for your personal stories of sibling relationships, you delivered!

We were flooded with more than 100 responses, from practical suggestions for staying in touch to heartwarming stories of sibling support. Some recounted the strength of their relationships from the outset, while others detailed connections that grew stronger with age or shared hardship. About a quarter of people wrote about sibling relationships that were distant or strained, and some carry that sadness with them. Still others longed for the brothers and sisters they've never had.

But the power of closeness and connection among siblings shone strongest throughout your narratives. We found your stories so poignant and inspiring that we're featuring many of them (but, promise, fewer than 100).

Tough times lead to tight bonds

Adelita Lopez from Long Beach, Calif., describes her older sister Rosa as "the backbone of our little family" and Adelita's "guide and protector." Growing up, they spoke the Indigenous language found in Mexico called Mixtec. The family moved to the U.S. when the sisters were children. "Adapting to life in the U.S. was challenging," writes Adelita. "We didn't speak Spanish or English, which isolated us at school. Rosa, ever the resilient leader, helped us both learn Spanish with the aid of a loving teacher who visited our home daily. Rosa's perseverance not only helped us adapt but also paved the way for her to become the first college graduate in our family. She taught us to approach life with love and empathy, shaping how we treat each other and face challenges. I am forever grateful for her guidance and love."

Amnet Ramos from North Plainfield, N.J., says in the wake of a tough childhood, her sister remains her best friend. "We grew up in a pretty 'messy' environment. Our parents were divorcing, we were food insecure, and we were all in survival mode. My sister was my constant and still is. I don't know what I'd do without her. We've [helped raise each others'] six kids and often wonder if they'll be as tight as we've been. So far so good!"

Trying circumstances helped Diana Carreon from Phoenix forge a relationship with her brother. "I think because we shared such unique experiences and hardships that we were able to get closer and watch for one another. Even when we felt like we had nothing, what we did have was each other – and that's what mattered more than anything. Our relationship was not always like that. My brother and I did not get along growing up, but once we reached a certain age and the hardships piled on, we came to realize the importance of having someone close, someone who shared in the hard times."

Tethered by technology

"My siblings and I started a group chat titled 'Sibs.' Hilarity ensued," writes Lauren Spirov from Chicago. "We used that platform to send funny videos, photos of our pets, new songs or entertaining stories about the family. About a year and a half ago, our dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. It rocked us. I worried the immense grief would tear us apart. While we all grieved deeply and individually, we found ways to let the others know we were there via our group chat. A simple heart emoji or photo of our dad let the others know we were with them. Remerging on the other side of this grief has cemented our bond in inexplicable ways. I can't imagine having endured such a loss without them. Siblings bring out the best in one another, and I'm so grateful that I have three of the best in the world. We'll probably have our group chat until we're 100."

Jessica Rhodus from Cincinnati also keeps in tech touch with her siblings. "Since none of us live near each other, we connect regularly on a text chain. The four of us play the lottery together when the jackpot reaches a billion dollars – which is silly, but fun. We send pictures from our lives. I am really grateful to have siblings who have made, and continue to make, our relationship a priority."

Vivienne Heffernan, of Zeist, The Netherlands, writes, "My siblings (three sisters and one brother) and I are extremely close. They are my best friends, the greatest gift my parents ever gave me. We're aged between 52 and 41 and we live in three different countries in Europe but we still talk and WhatsApp every day. We have in-jokes, we sing songs, we tell stories from our childhood. We go away together for an annual sibling weekend – last year, our trip was to Salzburg, [Austria] so we could relive all the moments from the film The Sound of Music, a big part of our childhood."

For Karen Kleppe Lembo from Morristown, N.J., the tech ties started in analog times. She is the eldest of six. "For a decade in mid-'80s to mid-'90s we shared a monthly newspaper, The Kleppe Kronicle, which each of us would contribute to twice a year. (I treasure them!) These days, all our gatherings are at weddings and funerals and related happenings, but we now chat pretty much daily — multiple times — thanks to a group chat. I learn more and more from younger but wiser siblings, and some days I share a tad of wisdom — all gratis! "

Nola Healani Faria, who grew up in Kaimuki, a neighborhood in Honolulu, writes that growing up "with four siblings in a two-bedroom, one-bath home made it necessary to get along. My father was one of six children, my mother one of eight, so they also 'modeled' the behavior of maintaining close ties with their siblings. Each of us children are now well into our late 60s and early 70s. My mother just passed away at the age of 95. Besides us five children, there are 11 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. What is interesting is that five children [and] several great-grandchildren — who live in Pennsylvania, Texas, California and Hawaii — have developed relationships with each other growing up (they are now teens) via the internet!

Early memories kindle long-term love

Kelsey Drahos from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says, "My brothers are so important to me." She counts her oldest brother as her best friend. "One of my favorite stories is of my first Christmas," she writes. "I was born in early December and was in the hospital for a while with RSV, so my parents didn't have time to get me any presents. My oldest brother was so angry that Santa forgot me, that he gave me a fire truck he received, so I wouldn't be without." She describes her other brother as "the funniest person I have ever met and my favorite person to have adventures with. We vacation together, our kids see each others' concerts, games and tournaments. Every December we pile the seven of us into an SUV to drive around and see Christmas lights while eating pizza and churros."

Wayne McCartney from Santa Clarita, Calif., has a brother 13 months younger than he is. "When we were kids we'd spend much of our time outdoors, running through the woods at full speed and expanding our imaginations and knowledge of nature. We particularly loved finding insects in dead logs and observing their behavior and appearance. When David got to be a little older, maybe 11 or 12, he decided that an animal cemetery would be a good idea so that the deceased insects and other dead animals we found in the woods would receive a respectable burial. When it came time for the burial, my brother insisted on saying a few words for the departed. I can't say enough about how much that endeared me to him. We're still the best of friends."

For Molly Simpson from Dayton, Ohio, her father's cautionary words struck a chord. She and her younger sisters, she writes, "used to take turns hating each others' guts and being good friends when we were younger. My father would always remind us with the same words: 'When your mom and I die, your sisters will be all you have left.' His advice didn't really take until I got my driver's license in 2017. I began driving the middle sister to school each day. I think our situation began to change, as there were no parents and we were just free to be sleepy teenagers, sitting in silence or listening to the classical radio station. It was then that our relationship started consistently being one of friendship. I decided one day — I don't recall why, probably guilt over all the mean things I had done in childhood — to display real enjoyment in them as they became young women. And over time, those actions made me genuinely happy to see them. Now, I've earned the reputation of being the family dog. When someone enters my parents' house, they always hear my feet hitting the floor as I run down the hall to give them a big squeezy hug and say, 'This is the best day ever!'"

Leah Dozier from Lafayette, La., is one of five and counts her younger sister as her best friend because of a childhood incident. "She had a falling out with her best friend and was heartbroken. That day, I let her lean on me, comforting her and promising to be her new best friend. Since then, we've been inseparable. Despite living far apart as adults, our bond remains strong. We talk on the phone regularly, always knowing we're there for each other. Having my sister as my best friend is a true blessing, and I'm forever grateful for the childhood event that initiated our close sibling bond."

Araceli Garcia from Santa Ana, Calif., writes, "We are four sisters. I am the eldest. The youngest is 10 years younger than me. Despite our age difference, we share an unbreakable bond. Our parents call us 'el cuadro.' They shaped this 'cuadro,' and they established the foundation. It's rock solid. The square has four equal sides.. We are equals — despite our age, our education, how much we make, how many kids we have, or our marital status. The square, 90 degrees on each corner, adds up to 360 degrees. This square has come full circle."

Showing up for each other

Showing up can be a lifesaver, says Amanda Hernandez from Houston. "I'm a first generation Latina currently in medical school. I thought as I got used to medical school my imposter syndrome would go away, but it still hasn't." When [my team's] poster got accepted to a research symposium in San Diego, I couldn't believe it! I was excited to present but also nervous to travel all the way to California alone, which is funny because I'm 27. So I [asked] in the group chat I have with my brothers if anyone was free to go with me. Immediately, my youngest sibling Oscar says he'd ask for the days off. The morning of the conference, I practiced presenting to Oscar while doing my hair and makeup. The conference passed and as intimidated as I was, it went well. I spent that evening and next day with Oscar exploring San Diego. As we watched the sea lions, we talked about how we wished the rest of our family could have come too. I know it's a trip I'll never forget."

Lucy Napolitano from Anaheim, Calif., is the oldest of four. She writes, "Late last year, my beloved dog Yoshi, who was only 5 years old, became very sick. There was no hope for my little guy. My husband and I made the most difficult decision – to let him go peacefully at home with us the next day. I called my sister in tears, and I don't think any of my words were audible. The next morning, my sister, my brothers and spouses showed up with snacks, tissues and tearful smiles. My sister took Polaroids and I cherish those as the last moments with my sweet boy. In such a deep well of sadness, I felt a glimmer of light. It was one of the worst days and it was also one where I felt the most love. Hugs from my siblings are different — I feel the tight bond and the security in them. I find it hard to explain the feeling I get when they hug me. Like nothing can hurt me."

Jessica Martin from Danville, Penn., went to a concert with her brother when they were young adults. "We were fairly close to the stage, and the crowd — largely young and male — got overly rambunctious, grabbing at and pressing in on me from all sides. It was claustrophobia-inducing, and I was starting to panic and get a little teary. Ross had gotten separated from me in the mosh-pit chaos, and I remember seeing him maybe 15 or 20 feet away. When he noticed my distress, he yelled, "That's my SISTER!" and charged through the frenzied crowd to grab my arm and pull me free. We watched the rest of the show from a safer, calmer distance, and I've never forgotten how grateful I was that he was looking out for me."

The youngest of four children, Emma Chavez of Los Angeles says she is very close to her three siblings. "My sister's husband says he likes how close we all are — to that I say it's a relationship 24 years in the making. I'm 46 now, and value every moment with my siblings and their kids and their spouses. We all live two hours apart in different directions but make an effort to see each other a few times a year. And every time after we leave our gathering place, I tell my son that being with my siblings is good for my soul. I'd be so lost without them. I'd be a hot mess. I don't want a world where they are not there."

Uniting over health crises

"We are from San Antonio. Our parents met in New York City. My dad is from rural Lancaster, Penn., and my mom is from Puerto Rico, which made for an interesting upbringing," writes Brittany Brumley. "There are four of us and I'm the third child. It wasn't until we were adults that we realized my siblings aren't so bad." They become even closer during their mother's cancer. It went on for six years, she says, but the last year got tough and they eventually all got the call from their dad that she was in hospice at their parents' home in San Antonio. They all gathered. "We had 14 people sleeping in my parents' house for a week, sharing a bathroom, sharing responsibilities and never complaining or fighting. Looking back, that week feels unreal or a little sacred – and just ours. Even though it was the hardest thing we had ever been through, it was also a joyful time. We laughed, joked, cooked, played games, cried and ate together. I remember one night, when my mom at this point wasn't communicating much and it was about making her comfortable, we all were up late. We opened a bottle of champagne that my brothers had got me for my birthday and toasted my mom and family."

Tomas Gallegos from Denver writes, "I think a huge factor in my career has been the way that health (and navigating access to health care) affects families. Our communities, communities of color, often have less access to care, due to reasons that range from lack of insurance, language barriers, lack of early/preventative [care], fewer providers who share your race/ethnicity/culture, or just downright skepticism of the medical profession for historical reasons – the poor outcomes are often staggering. Our community and family strength is a reflection of those outcomes, and the bonds forged through difficult situations. For me, donating a kidney to my younger brother at the age of 26 was that challenge and a gift. I don't remember him asking – but it was a no-brainer. It's been an intractable bond with my brother, knowing that part of me is helping keep him alive."

Kate Gray of San Diego tells the story of her family like this: "Once upon a time there were two sisters. Kate was the older sister, Alyssa was three years younger. The girls spent their early years living in a little white house in the suburbs. Their parents regularly insisted, 'Your sister is your best friend,' as frequently as one might ask someone to pass the salt." Today they live in different states but stay connected through daily phone calls and regular visits. On Friday, March 13, 2020, as the world was descending into lockdown, Alyssa called Kate to say she was being referred to an oncologist. Alyssa had been diagnosed with mouth cancer. Less than a year later, she died. "After losing Alyssa, I was devastated by how much of myself was lost. I literally shattered like glass into tiny unrecognizable pieces. There would be days I'd stare absentmindedly at my reflection, puzzled by how the deep pain and disconnection I was feeling on the inside wasn't apparent on the outside. When I lost Alyssa, I lost the touchstone that showed me who I was and who I wanted to be. I struggled with how there isn't a word for a person who used to be a sister. When your spouse dies you are a widow. When your parents die, you are an orphan. When your sister dies, what are you? I was no longer a sibling. I was no longer a sister. Since Alyssa's death I've had to navigate a whole new world and my place in it. I can see how much of Alyssa is still with me."

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